Moneygall entrepreneur designs Obama T-shirts for up-coming visit

An entrepreneur is trying to buck the recession and capitalise on President Barack Obama’s visit to his ancestral village of Moneygall, Co Offaly by designing commemorative T-shirts.

Billy Hayes has set up shop in Moneygall, Co Offaly, to print and sell the keepsakes with a variety of logos including “What’s the Craic Barack” and “Is feidir linn” – Irish for ’Yes we can’.

Obama-fever is sweeping the village with locals repairing pavements and painting houses ahead of the president’s arrival later this month.

Mr Hayes’ great aunt Julia Hayes, who runs a local pub with her husband Joe, said news of the visit was already attracting curious tourists.

“We’re all on a high for the last month or more and we’re working hard with painters, decorators, you name it,” said Ms Hayes, who turns 80 this week. “We’re so excited now, everyone, no matter who you meet, everyone is in great order.”

Ms Hayes, whose pub stands opposite her brother-in-law’s, Ollie Hayes, has had the business spruced up for the visit.

“All I have to do now is meet the president and I hope to God I’ll be able to shake his hand,” she said. “If I don’t, I’ll die. I’m really looking forward to shaking his hand.”

Mr Hayes has come up with around 15 designs for the T-shirts, including a commemorative one with an image of Ireland and the president’s face, with the dates of the visit inscribed below it when they are eventually revealed.

The 26-year-old entrepreneur said he hopes to be able to give the president a T-shirt as a gift.

“You wouldn’t believe (the excitement),” he said. “We didn’t expect it ourselves and I don’t think people in the area realised to the extent that it would be. You look out the window at the village now and there’s lads on ladders, painting everything.”

Other businesses have also seized on the president’s historic trip, with developers hoping to name a new multimillion-euro motorway service facility on the fringes of the village after the president.

Locals have been feverishly tidying up the village, with Dulux even supplying paint.

Records have revealed that Mr Obama’s great-great-great-great-grandfather was a shoemaker in Moneygall and his son, Falmouth Kearney, left for New York in 1850.

The village, with a population of 298 in the 2006 census, was a little known destination in the midlands until local Church of Ireland vicar Canon Stephen Neill uncovered records in the home of an elderly parishioner in 2008.

Although generations have passed, blood ties to the president remain in the guise of local man Henry Healy, the president’s distant relative.

Across from Joe Hayes’ pub is his brother’s Ollie’s, in which there stands a bust of the president and a cardboard cut-out.

Visitor Caitriona Morrison, originally from Pennsylvania but living in Athlone some 50 miles north, said she hopes to travel to Moneygall for the president’s visit, expected to take place just days after the Queen leaves Ireland on May 20.

“I very much hope to be able to come down and see him. I certainly expect to try,” Ms Morrison, 44, said. “I came down to have a pint last week to see the town myself.”

Ms Morrison, a registered Republican but a fan of President Obama's, was touring the area with visiting friends from Florida.

“He brought a lot of hope and I think he’s still bringing a lot of hope to America who desperately needs it as much as the Irish need somebody of a similar nature at this point.”

The precise date and timing of the president’s visit have still not been finalised. A delegation of US security and diplomatic personnel visited to speak with locals and comb the area last month.

Ms Hayes said: “People are coming together. People you wouldn’t have seen for years are coming back,” she said.

“The like of this, no one ever saw. At the moment, it’s the best village in Ireland I’d say.”

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